“What happened?” I laugh through the pain that question evokes. “The last thing I ever expected. He wanted to see somebody else. He thought I’d be okay with waiting for him to test the waters, to make sure I was what he wanted.”
Nearly Fifteen Years Ago…
“You’re eating lunch today?”
I glanced over at my best friend, Rachael, before looking down to my tray of breaded pork steak and mashed potatoes. The only day I forked over the money for school lunch. I even paid a little more for some extra potatoes. We’d lived on simple food at home since my dad died. Nothing that even came close to how good this tasted. I’d been looking forward to this day since they released the lunch calendar for this month.
I cocked my head at her. “Did we just meet? You know I always eat on breaded pork steak day.”
She shrugged and looked away, but not before I saw the pink spread across her cheeks.
“What is it? Why are you acting weird?” I asked around a mouthful of food. I liked to take the meat and use it to scoop up the potatoes. It was heavenly compared to ramen noodles and PB & J.
She darted her gaze around the room before seeming to shrink in her seat. Her voice lowered in the noisy cafeteria so much I had to lean closer to hear her. “It’s just that you’ve been working more and eating here less. I haven’t seen you in a while. I’m a little surprised you bought lunch today.”
My stomach dropped at the same time my back straightened. Unlike Rachael, I didn’t lower my voice—I raised it. “Yeah, I’m poor. That doesn’t mean I can’t indulge every once in a while.” Guilt swamped me, both for spending money I shouldn’t have and for getting upset with my friend. She said nothing that was untrue. I picked up my tray from the table and stood.
“Cami, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be a bitch.” Her voice shook a little.
I didn’t reply. I went to round the corner of the table and walked right into Law. He let out an Oof! and grabbed my tray before it dumped all over his chest.
“Hey, you,” I greeted fondly, happy to see the one person who understood what I was going through and didn’t judge me for it. “No lunch today?”
“Um, hey.” His answering response came out serious and instantly set me on edge. He tugged the tray from my hands and placed it on an empty seat at the table beside us. “Can we talk?”
I stood awkwardly, wishing he’d take my hand or something. This felt unnatural to us, and I didn’t like it. “Um, sure. Where do you want to go?”
“How about somewhere quiet?” He nodded his head towards the cafeteria exit, and without waiting for me, started walking in that direction.
What could I do but trail behind? My feet wanted to break out into a run, so I forced myself to slow down. It was hard when I had a bad feeling about the conversation to come.
We walked silently out of the cafeteria and down the hall, me a few steps behind him the entire way. Not once did he glance back or take my hand or start
a conversation. We’d been alone since the moment we left the cafeteria, but Law seemed stuck inside his own head.
Suddenly, Law stopped and backed up a few steps, pausing outside the shop classroom. He peered through the glass pane. Then he turned and scanned the surrounding halls. His eyes briefly caught mine, so I gave him a quick shrug, but he looked away quickly. My heart sank.
Satisfied we were alone, he wrenched open the door and held it so I could follow him inside. The click of the door shutting amplified in the empty space.
“So… what’s up? I won’t lie, you’re making me nervous. So if you could just spit it out and get on with it, that’d be great.” I smiled my quirky smile. Law just looked at me, and if I wasn’t mistaken, his frown deepened.
The muscles gave out and my smile fell.
He didn’t seem ready to talk, and I wanted to give him time if he needed it. I looked around the space. I loved the smell of this room. The scent of sawdust and wood stain hung in the air, even when the class wasn’t actively working on any projects. I felt real and gritty in here, reinforced as a young woman who could do anything that my male peers could. I’d taken shop last semester, and I still glowed when I replayed my teacher’s praising comments in my head. He’d encouraged me to sign up for the off-site class as an elective for my senior year. The students in that class got to build an entire house during the semester, and he’d told me there are very few females that sign up. It meant a lot to me he took the time to reach out and encourage me to apply. It might be a year and a half away yet, but I already knew it was something I’d be doing.
Feeling like I’d given him ample time, I questioned again. “Law?”
“You and me, we’re a forever kind of thing. You know that, right? You think that, too?”
Everything inside of me froze at the sound of his voice. It was calm but anxious, with a hint of imploring. And I didn’t understand where he was going with this.
I leaned my side against the high, metal shop table and looked him in the eyes. “I do. You’ve been my best friend for as long as I can remember. Just spit it out, Law. Are you moving? Did your dad get a new job?”
“No.” He looked to his shoes and my eyes dropped there. Together we watched as he shifted a pile of sawdust with his toe.
“Then what is it?” I couldn’t keep the anxious edge out of my voice. He sounded like he was leaving me. I don’t know what I’d do if that happened.